Why, When, and How to Prune a Christmas Cactus [ Easy 3-Step Guide ]

Christmas cactus plants are quite hardy and thrive even when neglected. This sometimes turns into a problem as they grow to gigantic sizes. Trimming them regularly prevents them from taking up too much space.

Read on to find out why, when, and how to prune a Christmas cactus.

how to prune a christmas cactus

Why Prune a Christmas Cactus?

Christmas cactus, also known as Thanksgiving cactus or crab cactus, is a genus of cactus native to Brazil.

Their name is a reference to their flowering period. To bloom, they need to be in darkness for at least 12 to 14 hours. This usually happens in the holiday season during the winter.

They typically do not have any leaves, their long stems carry out the function of leaves too. Christmas cacti do not need a lot of care. They can grow to gigantic sizes, which poses a problem in homes with limited space.

Pruning back the Christmas cactus helps you regain some of the space they are occupying.

It also helps the plant grow bushier in the future. If your Christmas cactus is looking a little bare, the last thing you want to do is prune it further, but pruning will actually encourage new growth.

why prune a christmas cactus

When you remove all the dying or brown parts of the plant, you help the plant divert energy from the dying parts to focus on fresh growth.

Pruning regularly is not compulsory for a Christmas cactus, but it certainly helps keep the plant lush and healthy.

When to Prune a Christmas Cactus?

The perfect time to prune a Christmas cactus is when it has just finished blooming. The plant will be starting its growing period, so pruning it right after blooming will make it branch out, creating a fuller appearance.

If the blooming period is behind you, you can still prune it effectively till June or late spring. Any later and you will end up damaging your Christmas cactus.

Christmas cactus plants do not grow very fast, so you probably do not need to prune them more than twice a year. If you prune them at the right time, the plant will grow more distinctive branches and flowering will also increase.

How to Prune a Christmas Cactus

If you have a Christmas cactus, you already know how beautiful it looks in full bloom during the winter blooms. To keep your Christmas cactus blooming like that year after year, you need to prune it properly.

It is not a simple task as their stems are divided into sections which can be difficult to handle. We have created a step-by-step guide to help you prune your Christmas cactus the right ways:

how to prune a christmas cactus

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

The shears or knife you choose must be extremely sharp. If it is blunt, it will tear the plant tissue and damage the branches.

You need to sterilize all your equipment in a cleaning solution meant for gardening tools or create a sterilizing mixture by mixing 9 parts water with 1 part bleach.

Once all your tools are clean, make sure you go ahead and wash your hands too. It is very important to ensure that everything that touches the plant is clean. Carelessness with cleaning is how diseases spread in plants.

The worst part is that once it spreads, the disease will spread to other plants in your home garden too. It is always better to be safe than sorry, so clean up all your equipment before you start pruning.

Step 2: Prune Effectively

If you look at the branches closely, you will see that they are divided into segments. Always cut at the gap between the segments, never across the segments themselves.

This will also be easier because the branches are weakest at the gaps between the segments. You might have seen people twisting off the branches instead of cutting them, but it won’t work unless the foliage is quite young.

Don’t prune more than one-third of the branch. If the plant is relatively young, pruning about one inch off every branch is sufficient. When you’re done, all the branches should be roughly equal in length.

While pruning, take a close look at all the branches and check for pests. This is a good opportunity to catch them before they wreak havoc on your Christmas cactus or spread to other plants.

Step 3: Use the Cuttings

When you are done pruning your Christmas cactus, don’t throw away the cuttings. You can use them to start new plants.

Let the cuttings dry out and form calluses before you plant them in a new pot. Don’t leave them in sunlight as you do with other cuttings—Christmas cactus cuttings should be kept in a cool and dark environment for a few days before propagation.

Plant the cuttings in a good soil mix. The container should be shallow. Water sparingly till they develop viable root systems. Once you see new growth, you can transplant them to new pots.

Christmas cactus cuttings can also be propagated in water. Put the cuttings in a small glass jar. The cutting should be suspended wound-side down and about one-third of the stem should be submerged in water.

It will take 6-8 weeks for roots to develop. When the plant is big enough, transplant it to a new pot.

If you don’t want to propagate new plants, you can use the cuttings for composting. Don’t leave the cuttings in or around the pot as they will start attracting pests when they decompose.